I would like you to think about your hometown. Where did you grow up? Where we come from often says something about us. For example, I’ve told you before that the first 7 years of my life was spent on a farm near Pipestone, Minnesota. From that I have learned to appreciate rural life and farming as a way of life. I also grew up having with an interest in Native American issues because of the history of the Pipestone rock with which the plains Indians made their pipes.
More often, however, other people will think something about us based on where we come from. Sometimes when I tell people that I also grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, they think, “Oh yeah, that’s where all the ‘big-shots’ in the Christian Reformed denomination are.” Many times, people make judgments about us based on our hometown.
Hometowns in Jesus’ day were especially important for they said a great deal about who the person was. People had certain negative attitudes toward Jesus based on the town he grew up in. However, Matthew’s point in describing the home of Jesus is more than just to teach us some history about Jesus. Rather it is to say something about who Jesus is and whom Jesus has come for. This morning we conclude our study of the early years of Jesus’ life in Matthew 2 so that we can better understand who Jesus really is. Jesus is the Son of God who has come to save all people, Jew and Gentile, insider and outcast. Let’s read Matthew 2:19-23.
As we saw last week, Herod was a brutal man who tried to kill Jesus. In fact, Herod’s life and rule were marked by many brutal killings. He killed his mother-in-law, some of his own sons and wives to consolidate his power and his rule. It comes as no surprise that he would want to kill some new threat to his throne and so killed the young boys in Bethlehem as we saw last week. However, now that Herod is dead, the danger to Jesus is reduced considerably.
So while Herod’s threat is reduced, the threat and evil of sin continues. As we saw last week, the birth of Jesus alone does not stop the pain of sin for us. Terrorist attacks, mass shootings, sexual assault and injustice in various forms all over the world underscore the amount of sin and evil that is in the world. However, let’s never forget that Jesus came to bring victory over such awful effects of sin. But again the point here is that Matthew wants to say something about who Jesus is and he does this by looking at Jesus’ journeys to his hometowns.
God comes to Joseph in a dream while still in Egypt and tells him to go back to the land of Israel. Joseph’s first inclination was likely to bring Jesus back to Bethlehem since he likely had established a home there before; however, Joseph was afraid to go back into that area. Remember that Herod’s son Archelaus was just as brutal as Herod was and Joseph had good reason to be afraid that he might try to kill Jesus as well. So God warns Joseph in another dream about this and Joseph goes to Galilee. So here is the question: since God knew that there was danger in Judea, why not send Joseph directly to Galilee?
Matthew’s point once again is to show that salvation for God’s people will come from Jesus. These small details would again remind Matthew’s Jewish readers of the Israelites journey from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. This is the only time the phrase “the land of Israel” is used in the New Testament. God is making it clear that Jesus will be the one who will lead the new people of Israel out of slavery to sin to freedom and eternal life.
Moreover, when God speaks to Joseph, he uses the phrase, “Go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” This is almost identical to the phrase in Exodus 4:19 when God spoke to Moses when God called Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses had been hiding in Midian after he had killed an Egyptian. “Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, "Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead." Once again, the similarity would be seen by Matthew’s readers and the connection would be made between the Exodus and Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah the Jews have been looking for to rescue them from sin.
For us today the point is that Jesus is the only one we must look to for our salvation. The Jewish people were eagerly seeking the One who would bring them life. Their whole lives were focused on that expectation. We should be eagerly seeking to long for Jesus in our lives as well.
III. The journey to Galilee shows that Jesus is also the Savior of the Gentiles.
Galilee was referred to with some derision as a place for Gentiles in Isaiah 9:1. Isaiah says that even Galilee, way out there, will be honored! Imagine that! The Gentiles in Galilee were those whom the Jews considered to be outsiders. And the Jews believed they had no place in God’s kingdom.
By going there Jesus makes it clear that the Gentiles too, even in Galilee, belong in God’s kingdom if they accept Jesus. Jesus is certainly for the Jewish people – for Israel – and that is why Matthew says Jesus went there first; but Jesus also came for the Gentiles. God’s people would have to learn that Jesus has come for all people, not just those whom they felt were the chosen ones.
That is an important point for us to remember once again this Christmas. The message to Matthew’s readers, and also to us, is that we must share the message of Jesus with those whom we think would not want to hear it or we think should not hear it. The good news of Jesus is for that neighbor who lives near you that you know wouldn’t be caught dead in a church. It is for that co-worker who you know is involved in all kinds of moral problems, and obviously aren’t church material.
Jesus’ going to Galilee shows that he came to earth for those kinds of people. And so we must go to those who on the fringe, seek them out and invite them to hear the good news of Jesus in one way or another. Now we have to be careful how we do this. One pastor relates a time on one Christmas Eve when their young children were preparing to go to church for the candlelight service. On the way their son asked his father, “Dad, are you going to let us enjoy this Christmas or are you going to try to explain it to everybody?” Let’s not rob the joy from Christmas by making it a theological lecture.
Still we can share with others in many ways the hopeful joy that Christ’s birth brings to us. Remember the people lost in the dark world and share the good news with them. Always be looking for opportunities God gives you to share the reason for the hope and joy you have inside you. That is what Jesus came to do and that is what we must do as well.
IV. Finally, the journey to Nazareth shows that Jesus is the Savior of the outcast.
When Joseph went to Galilee, he returns once again to Nazareth. Matthew highlights the significance of this by saying, “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” There is not one particular Old Testament text that says this. A Nazarene was one set aside for special service to God. Matthew is saying that Jesus is the despised and rejected One set aside by God whom the whole Old Testament points to.
But the word “Nazarene” is also similar to the word in Hebrew for “branch.” Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be the “Branch” from David’s ancestry. This would then say that Jesus is the “Messiah branch” that Isaiah had foretold. The point Matthew is making is that the promised Messiah the kind of Messiah that people wouldn’t normally expect.
This describes how Jesus would be received. For while Jesus is born a king and worshiped as a king by the Magi, he will also be despised and rejected by mankind. In fact, Jesus would grow up to suffer and die and even be completely rejected by God for a brief time in order to bring salvation to us.
However, Matthew is also saying that Jesus has come to the outcasts. Jesus doesn’t come to the cream of society, but comes to those whom Jews and Gentiles alike thought were the refuse of the world. He came for people who had little value at all in the world’s eyes: the homeless, the refugee, the illegal immigrant and the addicted. That means that regardless of who we may be, what we have done, the sins or problems we struggle with, Jesus has come for us.
But again let’s remember that a good celebration of Christmas is more than just remembering the birth of Jesus. We need to make sure that Jesus is in every part of our lives throughout the year. Today let’s ask ourselves: “How much is Jesus in your Christmas and in your life?”